Editorial: Shifting the Leadership Paradigm at DMA·05

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This year's Direct Marketing Association fall show was a great success in many ways. Energy and optimism were in the air. Exhibitors were pleased with the attendance. New people attended the sessions. Bloggers provided real-time coverage. But there were a few elements that troubled us.

When we first met John Greco shortly after his appointment as president of the DMA a year ago, he talked about "a new era of cooperation and collaboration" between the DMA and DM News and other members of the trade press. One matter concerned us. He would not describe his agenda for the DMA - or even his reasons for joining the association - because he was going on a 60-day "listening tour."

It sounded odd that someone would take a job as head of a trade association without disclosing his reasons for doing so. But we at DM News, and our colleagues at the other DM journals, suspended our disbelief and waited respectfully for the grand agenda that would be announced.

Mr. Greco did not forget his promise. At the end of the 60 days, he opened the 87th fall show with the disclosure that he was now genuinely committed to developing a strategy for the organization. Accordingly, he would ask the DMA board to return to the task in the hopes of unveiling a new five-year roadmap "early in 2005."

In the meantime, he asserted, he would tackle such tasks as breaking down silos, finding the glue that holds everybody together, improving segment services, bringing operational excellence into every facet of the DMA's culture and last, but not least, enhancing the industry's image.

So after two months, we knew one thing for sure about Mr. Greco. He didn't speak plain English.

Fast forward to fall 2005, when a press release arrived, indicating that the DMA was about to launch a monthly publication called inMarketing. It would be "the only magazine which covers the entire direct marketing spectrum." (Which part were we missing?) The release further promised that the publication would be "the cornerstone of industry outreach" and "the one marketing publication that can truly substantiate a leadership service."

At this point we started to suspect that Mr. Greco had a hand in penning this release, especially when we got to the part about the four pillars of the new magazine: "Expertise (coverage of research); Thought-leadership (shaped by active industry leaders, academics and advocates in policymaking); More than Direct Marketing (where other publications are about the nuts and bolts of direct marketing)... and Not Just Reporting DM Community - It's Creating It ..."

Setting aside the language barrier, it occurred to us that this announcement was not at all consistent with Mr. Greco's promise of a "new era of cooperation and collaboration." Besides, why would the DMA want to start a monthly magazine in a field where the universe of ad pages had shrunk by more than 50 percent between 1999 and 2004?

Greco's answer in an e-mail to DM News was quick, but pure "Greconian" in rhetorical flourish. It was not the DMA's intent to detract from our or any other publisher's editorial product. It was just that: "With all of The DMA's conferences, seminars, special interest councils, awards, best practices and ethics, and government liaison programs - we have traditionally been reporting on this long list of activities to our paying members through a myriad of DMA media. Our members have told us to report this spectrum of information in a more streamlined way ..."

We were glad to have the matter clarified so nicely. But then the first issue of inMarketing arrived. Sadly, it contained few, if any, of the components suggested in Mr. Greco's recent e-mail.

We showed the press release and publication to a publishing expert. "I wonder if the DMA members know how expensive it is to start a magazine," he said, "because it's going to cost a hell of a lot to get this one off the ground."

A thought occurred to us. Maybe we could help out and reduce the costs. So we sent another e-mail to Mr. Greco. Would he like us to mail out an ad-free inMarketing once a month to our readers along with DM News? That would eliminate the costs of ad salespeople, circulation audits, etc.

This really seemed to irritate Mr. Greco. "Thank you for your creativity," he wrote back, "but your idea/proposal does not work for us. You may not be aware, but there is currently a reasonable level of confusion in the market. We frequently encounter people who think DM News is a DMA publication. If we commingle our distribution as you suggest, it will further dilute both of our brands. I can't believe that you believe that to be good for either of us."

He continued, "We are moving forward as planned with our new member communications strategy including an appropriate advertising component... I'm sorry you feel so threatened by it. That clearly was not and is not our intention, but in any case, we need to proceed as planned."

Now, for the record, we did not recall saying that we felt "threatened by it" - particularly after seeing the first issue. And it certainly DID seem to be the DMA's attempt to go after our business. But we were glad to know that the REAL reason for starting the magazine was not to streamline communications with members, but to dispel "confusion in the market" between DM News and the DMA.

There's no sense trying to discourage Mr. Greco from publishing this new magazine, because, no doubt, he will come up with a third, fourth and fifth "real" reason, until we resign ourselves to the fact that he is bound and determined to spend the members' dues on another magazine. Wouldn't this money be better spent on the much talked about consumer campaign?

That's why Mr. Greco cut short his press conference at DMA•05 (or is it DMA 05?). Because, as they say in Greco-speak, there's a "new leadership paradigm." Say one thing. Do another. Switch reasons if necessary. As for the trade press, if they won't go away with their silly questions, start a magazine of your own. Always follow the new motto: "Relevance. Responsibility. Results."


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